I first heard about this bothy when I saw some photos on Facebook and recognised the Strata Florida track descent from the Red Kite Elan Valley challenge ride. The riders said that they were staying at the Moel Prysgau bothy in the Tywi forest. None of this mean much to me so I did a google search, found an old document and map, located the bothy and then saw that it was marked on the OS map.
I was staying in Llanwrtyd over Christmas and fancied taking a look at the bothy. I’d already had one attempt that had been thwarted by floods and cold feet. So I had a high level route in mind that avoided river crossings. It was mainly road or fire track so I maintained a good pace throughout. I managed my first KOM on one of the track climbs (by a few seconds and out of 3 riders).
Starting out on the road I was amazed by how much speed I could carry for so little effort compared with riding on muddy paths and tracks. That spurred me into setting a decent pace for this ride.
Apart from a few riders in the valley below me and one farmer I didn’t see another soul for several hours. The ride turned out to be quite heavy going in the end and the stats back that up, with almost 1,200m of ascent in just over 4 hours of riding.
As I approached the bothy I wondered if anyone would be staying there. I approached from the back and skirted round some large puddles. From the outside it’s a compact two storey cottage. On opening the door I found no evidence of anyone being there. It’s actually all at ground level inside with a sealed room on the left hand side. The notice on the door exhorts users to “keep it tidy”, and it was.
With the target reached I set out on my return journey feeling rather lonely. I didn’t see another person on the return journey either. It was damp and slightly dark when I finished.
I’ve been to the Real Ale Wobble every year since about 2001 – see my collection of maps and videos. This is a great event that sees several hundred riders combine cross country riding with beer and food stops.
I spent some time on Friday night fixing the bike that I wanted to ride (bike A). Some testing of this in the car park showed that the new chain on a slightly worn cassette was going to jump. I agonised over it being suitable for the event and packed bike B as well so I could make a decision the next day.
Rather conveniently my parents live in Llanwrtyd Wells where the event is based. They served as a hotel for three cycling friends – Gary, Jerome and Chris (they guy who broke his pelvis in the Alps this year. Article coming soon). I asked them what their plans were for the ride and they all mumbled something about being “a bit tired” and “not in a hurry”. I think this was related to beer and 1am bedtime.
A warm drizzle was falling outside the house and after a quick test ride of Bike A where the chain jumped all over the place I decided that Bike B was the sensible choice.
I wanted to see what sort of time I could manage if I worked at a fair pace. The long route was advertised as 27 miles so I was expecting around three and half hours which didn’t sound too taxing. The Ale Wobble doesn’t really attract the racing type – it’s more about being sociable and enjoying the epic nature of it. I wasn’t doing this to prove anything other than what I could do to myself.
I spotted a map on the wall at registration and took a quick look. I’d ridden every part of the route before but not all as part of an Ale Wobble. In some ways I’d wanted the route to be a surprise but it was good to have an idea of where it was going.
The start countdown resulted in the usual slow moving queue as bikes filtered out of the school car park. I set off about one third of the way down the field. I was feeling pretty feisty and overtook a lot of riders on the slight climb along the main road. I managed a similar number along the lane and then up the first track climb. When I reached the top of the first descent I realised that there were no riders in front of me. I was at the front!
Near the bottom I thought I saw one rider on the other side of the valley who was already moving up the next climb. When I reached the climb I had someone close behind me and pushed my pace up a bit. I then forbade myself from looking behind to see if they were catching me. That lasted until I stopped to capture a photograph of the ants riding down the first descent. They had not gained any ground on me which was a relief.
I passed the first food stop feeling like the event had only just begun so I had no need to stop. The route took a new line out along the ridgeway towards Beulah. I’d ridden this a few years ago when exploring the area so knew what to expect. I passed a few marshals and one shouted that I was the first rider that they’d seen. That was encouraging. No idea what had happened to the rider who I’d seen earlier. Maybe they’d gone the wrong way.
I was enjoying this feeling of being ahead of the pack. I felt fresh and fit, the energy was there and the sun was shining. I had the trails to myself to enjoy. This was the moment! I knew that, behind me, riders were caught up in the chaos at obstacles and descents.
I was mulling this over when a fast rider appeared from nowhere and overtook me. He looked like a proper xc racer and was soon gone into the distance. Another caught me on the chapel climb up behind Cwm Trallwwm, asking if I’d seen any other riders. He also very quickly disappeared into the distance.
I stopped for water and some muesli bars at the top of the trails and a third rider passed me. I was a pleasantly surprised to find that the trails at Cwm Trallwm had received some surfacing at the top and an inviting new descent replaced the old mud fest. I knew the lower section well from the Red Kite xc race series (includes video). My average speed was around 13km/h at this point which was very encouraging considering the amount of climbing and gloopy conditions. A fast road section delivered me to the bottom of a long track climb near Abergwesyn. At this point I’d been riding for 1h50m and covered 15 miles with an average speed of 8.3mph aka 13.5 km/h.
Back ache set in on the climb so I had to drop the pace a little. I was encouraged to have equal aching on both sides. The left side normally complains first. The pilates and yoga was showing some definite results for me.
I was overtaken at the top by an annoyingly old looking rider. I knew I couldn’t go any faster so it was a fair cop. He made good progress through the boggy ground on top of the hill too. The rider behind failed to catch me which was a plus.
I put the front wheel into another boggy patch and watched it disappear up the axle and then went over the bars feet first. This was in front of my parents who were marshalling. They told me that the previous rider had done the same. After the event they said that they’d been laughing all day at the stream of crashes due to that bog. Next time they must take a camera.
The long route now rejoined the shorter options and I got to see the crowds. I didn’t feel the need to use the food stop and carried on. It gave me a warm feeling that maybe I was now almost properly fit as I passed riders pushing up the hills.
I reached the top of the final descent at 21 miles in 2h51 (7.2mph / 11.6 km/h). I knew that it was just a fast descent and a road ride left so I could probably finish within 3.5 hours. The descent went without any issues and I passed the food stop at the bottom. The bike was really flying along the road and I still had the energy to push the pace a bit. The wheels were whirring on the road surface. Next I became aware of a flaccid rear end and had to stop to investigate. The rear tube had been punctured by a thorn and fixing that cost me several minutes.
After a very long tea and sandwich session I added another 11km by riding along the road to the last food stop to find Chris.
Overall a great event. I’d ridden all of the route before so there was nothing new for me but it used most of the best sections of trail in the area and I was very pleased with my time, energy levels and general tidyness of the riding. Total elapsed time was 3h25 and 25.7 miles/41.5km (7.5mph/12.1km/h). The moving time was 3h02 (8.5mph/13.7km/h). Elevation gain 930m (Garmin) / 1200 (Bikehike).
A rider on twitter said they’d done it in 3h05, so once again, the way to become faster is to stop less. I’d used up 23 minutes doing nothing. Out of that I’d probably used 7 minutes on the puncture, and a similar time taking photos and video, leaving about 9 minutes resting. My parents said I’d been the 4th rider out of 240 who had passed their marshal point. Which was nice.
Route on Garmin connect | gpx file (right click to save and view using bikehike.co.uk). The last big climb uses a track next to a bridleway. This was used by special permission for the event.
I rode some sections again on the Sunday and made the video out of the best bits from both days.
The Red Kite Events Devil’s MTB was an off road event with a choice of 30, 60 and 80km routes. There was a road sportive and a cross country run happening on the same day.
The recently thawed snow made the ground heavy going in places but on the plus side the week of sun had dried other areas to summer levels. I’ve ridden this area quite a bit over the years so I knew a lot of it and the route was a greatest hits package. There was also some new riding in the Cynant valley.
It took me 7.5 hours to complete the route and as I signed back in I thought “that’s got to be at least 2000m of ascent”. After I drew the route the stats came in as 2300m of ascent. That’s pretty much double what is considered a challenging day ride for reasonably fit riders. That explains the back ache.
I was feeling really good on the first half of the ride; the sun was shining, it was vaguely warm and the route took in some familiar and some new parts. After the food stop at the Crychan forest and being cheerily told that I was at the 40km mark then the effort required to complete the challenge became apparent. Setting off into the Crychan for another greatest hits package I found riders pushing their bikes up hills and after passing the 60/80km split I didn’t really see another soul for several hours. I recognised some of the route from the 2012 Devil’s Challenge.
Taking in a long track climb I started to focus on how much my back hurt and began wondering just how much more hill could be left in Wales. I also wondered just who the handful of riders were whose tracks I was following. I’m pretty tough and can cope with epic rides, but I was in pain and this lot were ahead of me. I had stopped for a few photos and video and done a bit of a motorbike enduro route (red and orange arrow mix up). Maybe that would account for 20 minutes or so.
Those who know me might have occasionally heard me mention yoga in passing. I don’t make a big thing of it, but yoga has clear benefits for fitness and strength and I’d really been noticing it recently. By two thirds round this ride any benefits of yoga were out of my mind and felt truly like my pre-yoga self (check out mountain bike yoga breaks).
Not only was the climbing relentless but I felt short changed and resentful of Red Kite Events and Wales for not giving me back all of the altitude that I’d worked so hard on gaining. That’s the only way I can explain it -they were accumulating from each rider and hoping that we wouldn’t notice.
After passing the food stop for the second time I was told that it was only 10km left to go. I prefer to think of that as 6 miles. A short cut into some fields looked good but it turned out that the field had an energy absorbing grass surface combined with a steep climb. The gears on my bike were knackered by this stage too – muddy dust and worn jockey wheels meant that the chain clicked and clacked when in the bottom few gears. I was beyond caring and just grateful that the chain wasn’t actually jumping gear. I might have shouted out something like “How much more f**king hill is left in Wales?” at about this time.
A quick descent down the Roman road was followed by one last painful climb and I knew that it was all down from this point. Which was a relief.
When I made it back to Llanwrtyd Wells at around 6pm I found out that lot of the 60km riders did the 30km route and a lot of the 80km riders did the 60km route. With that in the bag I called round to the Neudd Arms and had a long lie down. The stats below show 72km and almost 2300m of ascent!